Coming into the final race of the Continental Tire Challenge season at Road Atlanta, Stevenson Motorsports was ready to finish on a high note. There were a lot of championships on the line and the organization was looking for their first Team and Drivers title!
Up to this point, Matt Bell and I had endured a bit of a rough season, but we were still in the running for third place in the championship. There were a lot of high points during the year, however, we were still searching for that elusive first win.
Road Atlanta is one of the top tracks in North America. It’s fast with elevation changes and some intense off camber corners. Not to mention the fact that when it rains it becomes extremely treacherous, especially in the “Esses” and entry in Turn Five.
It’s got a little bit of everything, high speed corners, very technical slow speed corners and transitions that can test even the best of cars. You need to find the right balance, one that has solid power down but enough platform stiffness to allow you to carry speed through the fast sections.
With rain in the forecast, I believe we were excited about the possibilities. They say that rain is the great equalizer!
After a solid group of practice sessions that were mostly in the dry, we all felt pretty good about our Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R. Rain or shine, we were ready for battle. Unfortunately, qualifying was canceled because of rain and that had us starting fourth for the race.
Matt had a great first stint in the rain, keeping the car up front while working hard to manage the changing conditions. One minute the track would start to dry out and the next it was a complete downpour.
The downpours catch people out. It can come at the completely wrong time, right before a brake zone for example, having you shoot off the track. You’d be surprised how little rain needs to fall to create intense conditions.
Our strategist, Mike Johnson, decided to pit Matt early for fuel before the drive time requirements. This proved to be a great call and allowed us to get up to second when everyone pitted after us.
With about an hour to go we came in under caution for our final stop and driver change. I was more than ready to get out there and looked forward to the challenge. After running in P2, I noticed the rain started falling hard again and immediately the track conditions went from bad to worse.
After a big hydroplaning moment into turn five, I lost a few spots and noticed that we started struggling in the areas with standing water. After Robin allowed me back by to try and push for a podium, I ended up off track again at Turn 5.
Nevertheless, I slowly started fading as I was having major grip issues with standing water. We ended up eighth, which was clearly not what we wanted, but in the end it was more important to get to the finish than risking a DNF.
We came into the 2015 Continental Tire Challenge season with clear goals: win the Team and Driver’s championships, while helping Chevrolet win the Manufacturer’s Championship.
This was a tall order, but there was no team more capable of producing this in my mind than Stevenson Motorsports. Everyone gave 100 percent effort each and every weekend to achieve the maximum results and never once wavered in their desire to succeed.
Coming into the season finale, our teammates in the No. 6 car, Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell, needed to hit the minimum drive time requirements to clinch the championship. Andrew drove a great first stint to clinch them the championship before handing it off to Robin. Congrats to those guys!
On top of that, Chevrolet won the Manufacturer’s Championship and Stevenson Motorsports won the team championship! A clean sweep doesn’t happen often in racing, but when it does it proves that with hard work and dedication you can accomplish anything.
I know I can speak for all the drivers and crew that we can’t thank Johnny and Susan Stevenson enough for their unwavering support. This is a first class team and it has been an honor to join this organization.
I’d also like to thank Michael and Shannon Hoffman, Mike Johnson, Matt Bell, Andrew Davis, Robin Liddell, the entire team and Chevrolet for a great year. Everyone had a piece in making this a successful season and we should all be very proud of the accomplishments!
On to 2016!